Charismatic Minifauna

A New Phrase for Your Personal Lexicon: ‘Butt-Mounted Glowstick’

A recently-discovered predatory glow worm from Peru. (Photo by Jeff Cremer)

“It’s not often you see a wall full of glowing predators.”

Aaron Pomerantz

Start your day the creepy way.

Sounds good. It rhymes. It’s not quite eight-thirty in the morning, and the coffee hasn’t kicked in, so silly rhymes work. Still, though, creepy is as creepy does, and it probably isn’t fair to call it creepy just because it’s a creeping, crawling, burrowing, predatory bit of nature that just happens to glow with a bioluminescence that allows us to see the internal organs lighting up.

Can we call that creepy? You know, without maligning nature? Then again, maybe we can blame Aaron Pomerantz of Tambopata Research Center. Really, what part of the idea of “a wall full of glowing predators” isn’t creepy?

Or maybe Gwen Pearson isn’t helping anything by her comparison:

The greenish worms are the larval form of a click beetle, and their glow seems to have one function: attracting prey. The larvae are more like a Tremors graboid than a Star Wars saarlac: hiding out in little tunnels with just their glowing head sticking out, their jaws are spread wide open. When a hapless insect is attracted to the light and blunders into their lair, the jaws snap shut. The glow seems to function only to attract prey, not for protection. In fact, once disturbed, the lights go out. Pomerantz said “they just sort of shut off once we pulled them out.”

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Not Politics (Orb Weaver Mix)

The scientists described their estimate of 35,176 spiders/m³ as “markedly conservative” and “representing a minimum volume” of spiders, by the way.

Question: do you measure spiders in Metric ShitTons? Or in Imperial ShitLoads?

Either way, it’s an awful lot of spiders.

Gwen Pearson

It is, actually, difficult to admit just how it is that spiders affect so many of us so irrationally. And it offers no useful comfort to point to the next person and note that they’re even worse about it. Then again, four acres of orb spinners just waiting for some unfortunate organism to blunder into their trap, amounting to a population estimated somewhere above one hundred seven million spiders, and a “markedly conservative” estimate of maximum population density at 35,176 spiders/m³.

Detail of Greene, et al. (2010). Table 1 shows Architectural Elements Used to Estimate Total Amount of Volumetric Webbing in Back River Sand Filtration Facility.Come on. Admit it. You’d be just as bad about it as the next person.

The 2010 technical paper is available, for those so inclined, either through Pearson’s blog for Wired.com, or in our own archives.

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Pearson, Gwen. “4-Acre Spider Web Engulfs Building”. Charismatic Minifauna. 31 October 2014.

Greene, Albert et al. “An Immense Concentration of Orb-Weaving Spiders With Communal Webbing in a Man-Made Structural Habitat (Arachnida: Araneae: Tetragnathidae, Araneidae)”. American Entomologist, 56 (3). 2010.